Don’t misconstrue that title to mean I knew Robin Williams. I have, in fact, never met the man. I mean, he was on my pajamas when I was 5 and my older brother wore a pair of suspenders based on Mork’s famous ones. But I didn’t know Robin Williams. I did indeed grow up with him, though. He was a constant in my childhood. Sure, my brother and I loved Robin Williams on Mork & Mindy, and especially in Robert Altman’s bizarre Popeye movie. Going back and watching that movie today I see how that entire crew might’ve been coke-addled and out of their minds, but Mr. Williams stayed true to the Popeye of those early Max Fleischer cartoons I ate up as a little kid. But more than those it was his comedy that always got me. He was the first comedian that my whole family loved and followed like a rock star. My parents rented his comedy specials in the 80s and despite them being pretty adult routines I sat as a 9 year-old and watched them, laughing until I was wheezing and had tears streaming down my cheeks. He was manic and all over the place. He referenced everything from politics to Hollywood to his childhood to his own personal demons. All was open for discussion on the stage. There he exorcised those demons and let a crowd of fans and drunks watch the proceedings. For me, he was the funniest person in the world.
Anything he made I would watch. It didn’t matter if the reviews were bad. The World According To Garp, Survivors, Moscow On The Hudson, Dead Poet’s Society, Good Morning Vietnam, Club Paradise, and The Best Of Times were just a few of his films that I loved growing up. The World According To Garp especially had an affect on me. It showed him being funny, but serious. My adolescent mind didn’t know you could be both, but this guy was. He was everything. His late night visits to Johnny Carson, and especially David Letterman, were worth staying up to 11:30pm for….or at least talking my dad into setting the VCR to record it so I could watch it after school the next day. I’d felt like I’d been punched in the gut after seeing him on Letterman. You could tell there was a real friendship there. They came up together doing comedy and that showed every time Robin Williams showed up on Late Night With David Letterman.
As I got older his film roles got better. He made two movies in-particular that had a lasting affect on me. Awakenings and The Fisher King. Two movies that showed a depth to the guy that I never knew he had. Awakenings I liked for more than just the movie itself. It has sentimental value to me. It was my junior year in high school and my girlfriend of three weeks had broken up with me. At first I thought it’s no big deal. Whatever, right? Then after about a week I started to get pretty bummed out about it. Then out of the blue my ex-girlfriend gives me a note in the hallway and says she wants to talk about things…or something like that(it was 23 years ago, folks.) Anyways, on a Sunday afternoon my girlfriend came and picked me up(she had her license…I was a late bloomer) and we went to see Awakenings. I really liked that movie, but I really liked the company even more. You could ask my girlfriend what she thought of it, as she’s my wife of 18 years now.
The Fisher King was the movie that just blew me away. It felt like something far deeper than just a popcorn flick. It felt more human than anything I’d seen up to that point. I was still in high school, and this movie made me feel like I’d matured by the time I walked out of the theater. Robin Williams was amazing in it, and it was a precursory role to a career that would show the amazing depth the man possessed….and possibly the darkness he carried throughout his life.
I don’t know. I could go on and on about all the amazing roles and what an amazing actor Robin Williams was, but you could go to a million spots on the interweb and read that shit. Mr. Williams was a huge part of my childhood and a huge part in helping to form that all important human “thing” we call a sense of humor. My mom and dad are first on that list, followed by my brother and chimpanzee birthday cards. Then Robin Williams. Today I’m sad. For the loss of a truly beautiful mind and artist. For the loss of a funny, funny human being. For the loss his family is enduring right now.
I wish I still had those suspenders.